Weighty retrospective of the visionary innovator's wild and wonderful career
Released to coincide with her career-crowning exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Björk’s second official book presents itself as a very serious tome. Its sleek black slipcase and slim softbacks inside – pastel-coloured and discreet like academic journals – quietly demand respect.
And no wonder. This is a woman who’s spent at least half of her daring artistic life being dismissed as a puffin-eating pixie, having her great leaps of imagination in music, visual art and video reduced to words like “kooky” and “feisty”. So if the detailed history of her career placed in the context of contemporary art movements by MoMA director Klaus Biesenbach is a little on the dry side, we can forgive him. And Archives is a fascinating read for serious fans. Musicology professor Nicola Dibben, a collaborator on 2011’s ‘Biophilia’, offers a high-minded essay on the feminist, disruptive aspects of Björk’s creativity, and Alex Ross, author of The Rest Is Noise and music critic for The New Yorker provides a beautifully written piece on the manifold influences of Björk’s musical innovation. But by this point, even super-serious fans may be starting to wonder: where’s the fun?
Leave it to the lady herself to bring it. A magical booklet of emails between Björk and philosopher Timothy Morton is a wild, wonderful conversation full of epiphanies and sympathies, incorporating Michael Jackson, daft goths and the vibration of subatomic particles in its dizzying leaps, alive with the thrill of falling in love with someone’s brain. Just as good is the thickest of the five books, a psychogeographic journey through the 49-year-old’s albums by her constant lyrical collaborator, Icelandic poet Sjón. In it, the stages, changing characters and images of her career are woven into a loose, lyrical story. And finally, the clearest sign of all that she hasn’t lost her pop-culture roots: colour stickers of every single and album sleeve. For all the attempts to define Björk contained in Archives (“I have been doing a little reading and trying to find folks who could help me define what ‘ism’ I am,” she tells Morton) they’re probably the only labels in the fancy box that’d stay stuck.